In High School—many long years ago—I had to make a decision. If a student’s grades were high enough, he or she could take a special English class that either focused on theatre or writing. I offered to drop math in return for both classes but for reasons I could never understand my offer was refused. After a heated debate with myself I opted for theatre and never regretted my decision. Years later when I was singing at Radio City Music Hall I thought wouldn’t the Music Hall be a perfect setting for a play and between shows I began to jot down bits of dialogue, incidents that took place in the dressing room, anything that seemed possible in a small notebook which led to ... which led to ... which led to ... well here I am.
During rehearsals for shows I realized methods used in theatre could be applied when writing. When I write, I think of the protagonist as the star of my story in conflict with the antagonist who has his own motivation and tries to find his or her place in the spotlight. Most actors work on their motivation for hours, some for weeks, many for the entire run of a play. There’s a hoary theatre story about the actor who asks the director what his motivation is for making an exit. The director replies, “Your paycheck.”
Actors improvise and often add a line or two or three; if the director disagrees with the actor’s “improvement.” The lines are cut unless the actor is a star in which case the stage manager tears out strands of her hair. My characters often develop minds of their own. I begin with an idea of what the characters should do, why they’re doing it, what stands in the characters way and what the story and the theme is about. Then, sometimes without any warning, my characters decide they want to go in another direction. My villain doesn’t want to be my villain anymore, an unlikely heroine emerges, pages and chapters need to be revised or cut. I may fight to keep my original idea but my characters are stubborn and after a sleepless night I think—maybe they’re right and try it their way.
Some actors work from the inside out—motivation, background, and the reason why he is crossing from stage left to stage right. Others change their hair until they find the one that fits their character; they may rehearse with a long skirt, grow a mustache, walk with a limp, develop a twitch, gain weight or lose a few pounds—anything that will add to their portrayal. An idea, a conversation overheard, someone an author can’t forget begins the process of writing. We also use the senses as we work on the background, the characters, and who, why, what, when and where.
First drafts are like readings where friends are corralled and the author listens and takes notes—was that a laugh, a tear, a yawn or ... oh, my God ... a cough?
A director works with the actors, author, scenic and costume designer sometimes harmoniously ... sometimes not ... to get the results he wants. The writer works with an editor who will give a gentle push ... or maybe a not so gentle shove to help the writer find the better book that lies within.
The Producer of a play or show wants a hit, a chance at a Tony and someday his name on a Marquee. A Publisher doesn’t mind his books listed on the N.Y. Times Best Seller List and a prestigious award presented to one of his authors is always valued.